Croydon man went on ‘burning spree’ causing £40k damage to coffee truck

A man who set fire to a coffee van in Ruskin Square while wielding a hammer has been jailed. Samuel Cradock, 28, committed the arson attack on the South London business just a few days before Christmas, causing nearly GBP40,000 worth of damage to its owner. A few hours later, he set fire to an Audi A3 in a car park before setting toilet rolls alight inside a property in Croydon. After pleading guilty to four counts of arson, Cradock, of Sydenham Road, was jailed on Thursday, June 30 for more than two years for the series of offences which occurred over a three-month period.

The court heard that on December 21, 2019, Cradock and a 16-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had walked around central Croydon "setting random articles and vehicles alight". During the early hours of the morning, they approached Francisco Rivera's coffee truck in Ruskin Square, and set it alight before fleeing the scene. READ MORE: Body found on fire in West London park was so badly burnt man had to be identified through his fingertips

The inside of the trailer was destroyed by the fire

Sean Clark, prosecuting, said: "CCTV footage of the incident shows that the youth appears to be the main instigator, it shows them both initially trying to break into the coffee shop and then Mr Cradock helps him set fire to, while he appears to be holding a hammer."

Mr Rivera was notified in the morning after he received a message on Facebook from a customer. After travelling to the scene, he found "his van burnt out with everything destroyed" and contacted the police. As he was uninsured, his damages totalled nearly GBP40,000, and he was only able to continue his business after members of the local community organised a fundraiser for him to purchase a new van.

In a victim impact statement read aloud by the prosecutor, Mr Rivera described the arson as a "huge financial strain", which had caused "sleepless nights" to him and his wife, who was six months pregnant at the time. He had also been unable to pay three of his employees until he was able to reopen his business. The second incident occurred at around 1am, when Cradock and the teenager set an Audi A3 on fire at the NCP Whitgift Car Park.

Its owner, David Smith, was working a night shift nearby when he "smelt an odd smell" and was informed that a vehicle was on fire. Mr Clark said: "He went to see what had happened and he unfortunately discovered that it was his own car that had been burnt to the ground and was surrounded by the London Fire Brigade." The damage caused was estimated to be in excess of GBP5,000, and he was left to use public transport for a substantial amount of time after the incident.

An investigation by the police later traced Cradock to the scene through CCTV footage.

The trailer and equipment cost around GBP40,000 to replace

The following day, Cradock set fire to a number of toilet rolls and cardboard boxes within Lunar House, a 20-storey office block which houses a division of the Home Office. He followed this offending with a fourth fire on March 14, 2020, where he set fire to storage bins belonging to the Trinity Estate on Sydenham Road. He was caught on CCTV and later contacted the emergency services to report the fire.

Speaking of the impact his offending had on Mr Rivera, Judge Qureshi described it as an "appalling loss", saying: "That would have been the end of their business and it was only because of his customers, who are members of the public, that got together and raised the money. His customers, ordinary people, chipped in and enabled that family to get through not just that crisis, but their future, as this was an enormous financial loss for them." Cradock's defence lawyer Hannah Williams told the court that he recognised they were "grave and serious offences" and that he had since expressed "deep regret" in his actions.

It was also heard that Cradock had "significant and longstanding mental health issues" which were coming to the fore in the months leading up to the offending. Sentencing him to 27 months in prison, Judge Qureshi said: "The prosecution have mentioned the presence of the hammer. There are two of you going out in the middle of the night, into the early hours of the morning, and committing a series of arsons.

Whether it was the youth's idea or not, the two of you are just as bad as each other by going on this burning spree." "It does boil down to a large extent to your mental health issues. You suffer from an emotional unstable disorder and a mild learning disability so that gives some sort of explanation.

Your offending was a cry for help and disregarding that fact, it's an important factor of course. But as I mentioned, there's a three month gap in your offending and then you're out doing more burning, so you've got to realise that whatever mental health difficulty you have, it doesn't allow you to go out burning other people's property." After considering the possibility of a suspended sentence, Judge Qureshi stated he would be "failing in my duty to protect the public", and sentenced him to 27 months imprisonment.

He must serve half of that period in custody before he can be considered for release.

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